By Nathaniel Gana
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and President of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu has urged election management bodies in Africa to explore the potentials in the deployment of appropriate and cost-effective technologies for the conduct of elections.
He made the call at the opening of a three-day International Conference on “Opportunities and Challenges in the Use of Technology in Elections: Experiences from West and Southern Africa”, scheduled for 9th to 11th April in Abuja.
Organized by INEC, ECONEC and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) with support from the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), about 150 delegates from 30 countries in the West African and Southern African sub-regions are attending the conference.
The INEC Chairman noted that while EMBs in Africa had derived numerous benefits from the deployment of technologies, their experiences had not been devoid of challenges.
He said: “Election Management Bodies in our sub-regions and beyond have deployed technology in one way or another to improve on the processes, administration and outcome of elections, ranging from training and capacity-building for electoral officials, promotion of inclusivity in the electoral process (youths, women, PWDs, IDPs and out-of-country/diaspora voters), the biometric registration of voters, delineation of electoral constituencies, geo-referencing of existing as well as the creation of new polling units, establishment of robust electronic databases, accreditation of voters during elections, actual voting and the speedy and more accurate collation/transmission of results.
“The deployment of technology has also empowered citizens, more than ever before, to organise, mobilise and protect their mandates using various social media platforms to track result transmission and undertake Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT).”
Prof. Yakubu however pointed out that the deployment of technology had presented its own challenges. He said: “given the deficit of infrastructure and expertise in many countries in our sub-regions and the regularity with which elections are conducted, concerns have been raised about cost, choice and effectiveness of technology.
“Furthermore, given the high stakes involved in conducting elections in developing countries, electoral commissions must understandably be worried about the twin issues of communication and security, especially in situations where data reside with, and is indirectly transmitted to the tallying centres through, offshore vendors rather than exclusively controlled within national boundaries by Election Management Bodies.
“In addition, we have to contend with the disturbing but rapidly increasing incidence of election meddling through the deployment of counter technology on a global scale by state and non-state actors.”
Nevertheless, he maintained that technology “has come to stay” and expressed optimism that the coming together of election managers and experts to share experiences would prepare the EMBs in making appropriate and cost-effective choice of technologies that would increase public confidence in the electoral process.
On her part, the Chairperson, Executive Committee of the Electoral Commissions Forum, Southern African Development Community (ECF- SADC) and Chairperson, Electoral Commission of Namibia, Advocate Notemba Tjipuena, said sharing experiences from the Western and Southern African regions would deepen collaboration among EMBs and strengthen the credibility of the electoral processes of member countries.
She said: “I am particularly grateful for the idea of bringing EMBs together from ECOWAS and SADC. It is a good way of undertaking a comparative analysis of electoral processes, and at the end of the day, creating a body of knowledge to foster peer learning and sharing best practices of promoting elections with integrity in the two regions.”
The overall objective of the conference is to build and enhance the capacity of participants in the choice and usage of ICT in elections for strengthening the credibility, integrity and transparency of electoral processes in ECOWAS and SADC countries.
Others objectives include: preview of recent trends in the use of election technologies and assess its impact on electoral processes in the last three decades; provide a platform for EMBs in ECOWAS and SADC countries to share experiences on the introduction and use of ICTs in elections; Identify strategies to support EMBs in adopting sustainable new technologies in elections; review emerging trends and potential risks of technologies in elections; and reflect and adapt to the possible advances in electoral technology in the next decade.